The United Arab Emirates’ and Bahrain’s decision to establish full relations with Israel is a welcome bolt from the blue, in a year that has already set milestones in unwelcome developments.
These moves will go down in the history books as a strategic play that changed the world. It promises hope, certainly in the Middle East but also well beyond.
We are now witnessing the critical early moves to set the geo-political landscape for the twenty-first century. The timing could not have been better calibrated by the current US administration. Presidential polls to re-elect Donald Trump are due in less than two months.
As the world reels from a virus that refuses to loosen its grip, the decision to establish relations with Israel by the rulers of the UAE and Bahrain brings hope of a powerful economic bounce-back in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states.
None of this will happen tomorrow, but the prospect that it will unfold sooner rather than later are looking much brighter.
Anyone with a reasonable understanding of how the region operates is certain to look atthe commercial horizon with more optimism.
Meanwhile, geo-politically, this is just one of the segments of a bamboo curtain that the US is putting in place to ensure its global dominance well into the twenty-first century. They are designed to check the ambitions of China.
The wider strategic indicators are telling. Here are some assessments and predictions for what lies ahead.
The decision by the UAE and Bahrain, whose rulers have for decades been astute in assessing their options, could not have been made without the discreet nod of Saudi Arabia.
So, prepare for similar steps from other countries in the GCC, which also includes Oman, Kuwait and Qatar. Do not expect the rest to follow soon, but the direction is clear.
Israel and the GCC states have been dancing in the dark for a while now. Their strategic interests are convergent as never before, especially as an intransigent arc forms between China, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.
It should not be missed that these countries form a contiguous landmass from the Pacific to Europe, cutting right through what is sometimes known as “Eurasia” — the heartland of the ‘great game’ of the last few centuries.
The US role behind all these developments is transparent.
President Trump’s son-in-law and envoy to the Middle East Jared Kushner, clearly a quiet fixer par excellence, has delivered with the UAE-Israel-Bahrain deal what no one would have considered likely even in July 2020.
More such bolts from the blue are likely if Trump is re-elected in November 2020.
Now, with grim resolve, the US is visibly fabricating the shutters of the bamboo curtain around China.
Virtually every day now there is a message from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo which implies greater restrictions on Beijing, often directly impacting economic activity.
The steps being taken to re-configure global supply chains are now self-evident.
The tone was set on 23 July, in Pompeo’s speech at Yorba Linda, California: “We must admit a hard truth that should guide us in the years and decades to come, that if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done. We must not continue it and we must not return to it… we need a strategy that protects the American economy, and indeed our way of life. The free world must triumph over this new tyranny”.
This is paradigm shifting talk.
This language means the US has made a decision, and that is to end its cosy off-camera relationship with China that started with the opening made by former president Richard Nixon.
The symbolism of the speech being delivered at Yorba Linda (Nixon’s birthplace) must not be missed either.
There are rumblings that the Quad — a semi-formal grouping of Indo-Pacific powers including Australia, Japan, India and the US — may be the ‘new NATO’ for the twenty-first century.
The writing on the wall is clear to all. It is not for nothing that Germany and France have issued Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. The outlines of an Indo-Pacific strategic framework are emerging, with the Quad likely to be the core construct within it.
China is certainly not going to view all this as just an unhappy coincidence. The intent to contain is clear.
Washington has given enough hints that what is coming is a sort of Cold War redux, but with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the crosshairs.
What is unclear is how the CCP is going to respond. It could be anything from an internal revolt to oust Xi Jinping, a conscious decoupling from the world (a return to the pre-Deng Xiaoping era) or a general lashing out against whoever is in range.
At the moment, it looks like the last option is being exercised.
Most likely, the lashing out will end well before generalised war breaks out and an ideological gaze will be directed inwards to fault-finding and purging (which the CCP excels at).
This will be followed or paralleled by the ouster of Xi, who has many enemies inside the leadership.
It will also involve some elements of the aforementioned decoupling.
It is clear that many Chinese businessmen, well connected, are sensing such an inevitability by the rush to the exits (many via investments — literally — in EU passport purchases).
As things stand, China’s most reliable allies appear to be Pakistan and North Korea, followed by the less committed Iran and Turkey. And this brings us back into the GCC area where Saudi Arabia and the UAE have especially fraught relations with both countries.
So as the bamboo curtain is being installed, all the segments are being aligned. This is not very different from how things unfolded after the Second World War as the iron curtain came down around the former Soviet Union and the East Bloc, as well as their allies worldwide.
The US has long and deep experience in playing this game.
All of this presents a scenario full of opportunities and risks, from India’s perspective. Judging from the disclosed thinking at the Ministry of External Affairs under S Jaishankar, the evolving reality is well recognised by all that matter.
Complexities and challenges will certainly arise but with the strategic partnerships that have been, and are being, continuously consolidated there is room for optimism.
There are safe hands at the helm as, at the start of the third millennium, we enter a period of high flux in world history.
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